Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Island of Dr Moreau

--This review was written a few weeks ago. It is only published today because, well, it's me =)

Feels good to be able to walk again without hurting my joints. After 3 days of being bedridden following a very nasty fever, I managed to pick up a book and actually finished it. This time, it was a classic that used to scare the living daylight out of me, "The Island of Doctor Moreau" by H G Wells.

The story revolves around Edward Prendick, who, after surviving a shipwreck, chanced onto an island, with the help of a strange man called Montgomery. He later discovered that the inhabitants of the island are animals that unmistakably have human features, thanks to the laboratory vivisectional works of one Doctor Moreau. The doctor envisions a world where animals are as refined as humans and humans become a step closer to perfection. In order to achieve this, these "animals" are made to observe the Law, which includes among others, the prohibition to eat meat, the prohibition to walk on all fours, and the prohibition to kill.

Now, as I recall my first time reading it back in 2002, it surprises me that I was not more shocked back then. I was certainly terrified of the thought of what the main character, Edward Prendick must be going through, but I don't remember it to be quite as shocking as it is now. Perhaps age adds to my perceiving the whole situation in the light that it deserves.

Take for example, Prendick's horror at seeing the birth of a creature that is half pig and half human. I can't, for the life of me, imagine such an ugly spectacle. I am not just talking about the physical aspect of it, but even the idea is an abomination to me. Of course, the novel seeks to have the reader think of the moral implication of playing God. From my own reading, I find the whole text very damning of vivisection, and my stand on this issue is very similar. To be fair, Wells did not hide the fact that he is all against it as well. So, readers looking for an objective made up story revolving vivisection will probably not find what they are looking for in this book.

David Thewlis as Edward in the film adaptation of the book (1996)

But apart from that, there is another interesting angle that this book takes. Near the end of the book, a character observes that "to go on two legs is very hard." Being human is hard, which is why man is always so close to falling prey to his bestial instincts. What other explanations are there for the debasing acts that have been committed the world over? It's human capacity and divine order for restraint that make this world slightly more livable. And this book shows the possible calamities that might ensue when that fragile order is tampered with.

And in the end, one is left wondering if Dr Moreau's plan for the perfect human would have succeeded after all. I am still thinking about this, long after I am finished with the book. Now, what if we want to be a perfect human? Do we need to be biologically improved or would nurture suffice?

Again, to go on two legs is very hard.